John Harrity and Claire Coleman Lamont can make Connecticut a Green New Deal state
In the throes of the Great Depression, President Roosevelt established the New Deal, a visionary plan that put millions of people to work, built enduring public infrastructure, and set the stage for long-term economic prosperity. Now Gov.-elect Ned Lamont and the General Assembly have a historic opportunity: Put our people to work creating a new climate-safe economy — a “Green New Deal.”
What’s a Green New Deal? Put simply, it is a comprehensive plan to tackle climate change, revitalize our economy, and address economic and racial inequity at the same time. Immediately after the 2018 elections, a group of young people called the Sunrise Movement began urging Congressional leaders to support a plan to create millions of jobs by putting Americans to work making a rapid transition to a fossil-free economy.
The Green New Deal is fast becoming a new touchstone of American political discourse, gaining support from a diverse coalition of Congressional representatives, young activists and advocacy organizations. It appears bound to be a factor in the 2020 elections.
But there’s a problem: Both climate protection and public job creation are blocked at the national level by a president and Senate who are more interested in enriching fossil fuel interests than in creating millions of jobs for American workers protecting the climate.
So states, including Connecticut, are beginning to take the lead. Ned Lamont’s campaign platform could become the foundation for a Connecticut Green New Deal:
I will commit Connecticut to a further reduction in carbon emissions from current levels of 35 percent by 2030, 70 percent by 2040, and carbon neutral by 2050. Our transition to a sustainable energy future will create thousands of new jobs in the green economy…We have already seen good-paying jobs created in the fuel cell, solar installation, and home weatherization industries, and I am proud that New London will become a new manufacturing and assembling base for offshore wind turbines. As the sustainable energy transition continues,… I will make sure that many more green jobs are created.
In “The Land of Steady Habits,” it may be comforting to know that there is historical precedent for such an ambitious state-level program. Gov. Wilbur Cross, who entered office in 1930 a fiscal conservative, recognized the need for a more active state role in helping the destitute and submitted a “Little New Deal” to the legislature in his second term. New programs assisted the elderly, modernized state hospitals, prisons and universities, and provided jobs for the unemployed. During his tenure, the General Assembly eliminated sweatshops, outlawed child labor, established fair labor practices, and passed unemployment insurance programs.
The federal New Deal also had a major impact in Connecticut. The Civilian Conservation Corps put 30,000 people to work in Connecticut, including supporting environmental initiatives like planting millions of trees. More than 44,000 state residents were employed by the Civil Works Administration, building or repairing schools, roads and bridges. Much of this infrastructure is still in use today.
Connecticut also has a long history of bipartisan leadership on climate. The Governor’s Council on Climate Change unanimously recommended one of the most aggressive greenhouse gas reduction targets in the nation — cutting emissions 45 percent below 2001 levels by 2030 — and that target was incorporated into state law with bipartisan support from the legislature in May 2018. In December, the GC3 released a report with an extensive list of recommended actions that, if implemented, would put the state on track to meet the 2030 target.
But there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done, and recent international and federal climate assessments make clear that we must double down on all strategies to transition to a clean energy economy, including strengthening our longer-term climate pollution reduction targets and renewable energy mandates.
Lamont has outlined a bold vision that would strengthen Connecticut’s national leadership on climate action. He has also embraced the need for strategic investments to bring economic revitalization to our state. A Connecticut Green New Deal could help accomplish both goals, putting people to work building thriving local economies that are not only more sustainable but also more just and equitable.
John Harrity is chair of the board for the Connecticut Roundtable on Climate and Jobs and retired president of the Connecticut State Council of Machinists. Claire Coleman is the climate and energy attorney for Connecticut Fund for the Environment and serves on the Governor’s Council on Climate Change.